With the latest 007 installment and Netflix’s Marilyn Monroe biopic on the horizon, the Havana-born star is well on her way to becoming a household name
Words by MARSHALL HEYMAN
Photography by KURT ISWARIENKO
Creative & Fashion Direction by ALISON EDMOND
“I never thought I was going to be a Bond girl. I never thought I was going to be Marilyn Monroe,” confides 31-year-old actor Ana de Armas. “To even think that I was going to work in anything to begin with was pushing it. But at the same time, I guess I kind of knew [it could happen] because that’s why I moved to L.A. Something inside me knew I was going to be able to do it.” That proof of concept didn’t take long to manifest. It was a mere five years ago that de Armas moved to Hollywood from Madrid — at the time, she barely even spoke English.
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“Everything about portraying Marilyn Monroe was exciting and inspiring and terrifying”
Ana de Armas
She has already had breakout roles in 2016’s War Dogs and 2017’s Blade Runner 2049, but in the very near term, de Armas is poised for superstardom. First up is this fall’s Knives Out, a murder mystery starring Daniel Craig, Chris Evans and Toni Collette, and directed by Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s Rian Johnson. She’ll soon be off to New Orleans to film Adrian Lyne’s erotic thriller Deep Water, based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, opposite Ben Affleck. Next April will bring the release of No Time to Die, otherwise known as James Bond No. 25, in which she plays, yes, the new Bond girl. Also in 2020, she’ll appear as one of America’s most iconic stars in Netflix’s Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde, based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates.
De Armas grew up in Havana. Her dad, Ramon, worked as a teacher and studied philosophy in Russia, and her mother, also named Ana, worked in human resources; her brother, Javier, is a photographer. As a teenager, she decided she wanted to be an actor, and at age 14 began studying at the National Theater School of Cuba. After starring in a few Cuban-Spanish co-productions, she left her native country at 18 for Madrid to prove herself, with only 200 euros. She was almost immediately cast in a television show, made several Spanish-language movies, and then, at 25, de Armas decided it was time to pack her bags for Tinseltown.
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“I wasn’t getting bored, but I wanted something new and different. I wanted inspiration somewhere else,” she says. “When I have that in my head, there’s nothing that can stop me. But I never thought I was going to work this much.”
Despite her determination, in those early days in California, de Armas could barely communicate with her agents and manager, let alone have sparkling banter in meetings with filmmakers and casting directors. “Of course, you can imagine how those were,” de Armas recalls dryly. In one such exchange, she says the casting director told her, “Well, we’ll talk again in a couple of years.” Translation: They could connect again, seriously, when she could speak better English. “And I responded, ‘No, we’ll talk in two months.’ And he started laughing and said, ‘You’re crazy, you can’t do it.’ But in two months, I was already auditioning for great movies.”
“I’m good when I’m working. That’s when I feel the happiest”
Ana de Armas
That’s all de Armas had wanted: “Not always getting the parts, but just to get in the room. That’s what I’m excited about. Actually having the opportunity to be in the room with directors that I really, really want to work with. I was speaking things that I didn’t even know what I was saying, but I was there. That was it. I was on time, and I was there in the room auditioning.”
De Armas recognizes that the auditioning process is, to put it mildly, “so weird,” but she likes it. It’s a conversation. “It’s one particular day for two minutes,” she adds. “They don’t know what’s going on in your life. You might be sad or happy, sick or have a fever. I’ve even auditioned with my dog in the room because I was going straight to the airport. But I just like to go in the room so I can be a person.”
Perhaps de Armas’ secret sauce is not just her tenacity, but that self-deprecating authenticity. “I’m not good at interviews,” she says. “I’m not good at social media.” (Actually, she has 1.5 million Instagram followers, but who’s counting?) “I’m good on set. I’m good when I’m working. That’s when I feel the happiest, when I study and I prepare. The movie business and the industry are not where my strengths are.”
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Studying and preparing were integral to making Blonde, which also stars Adrien Brody (as Arthur Miller) and Bobby Cannavale (as Joe DiMaggio). “I worked on the accent for a whole year,” de Armas says. “I had a responsibility to portray her and her life in the best possible way. Everything about it was stressful, and everything about it was exciting and inspiring and terrifying.” Shooting scenes in Malibu in full hair and makeup, de Armas’ resemblance to the 1950s bombshell star of Some Like it Hot is uncanny, a complete transformation into the role and 180 degrees from Blade Runner 2049.
Jumping from making Blonde to Bond was “a very strange transition,” she adds. “It’s so different. … I’ve never done an action movie, and I must have underestimated what these kinds of movies are, but I must say I’m really impressed,” de Armas says. “Man, it’s really hard. The training, to stay true to the kind of movie, to the tone. Everything takes so long, so your energy level, when you’re waiting, goes down. And then you’re suddenly on set and you have to start killing people or kicking people. And it’s in high heels!”
It helps to have dialogue written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who was called in to amp up the screenplay. “Lucky me, all my scenes were written by Phoebe,” de Armas says. “My dialogue and the energy of my character really comes through like Phoebe comes through. The woman I’m portraying is different [than previous Bond girls]. It has some bubbles in it. It’s really fresh and exciting.”
Of visiting Pinewood Studios near London for a tour with Bond director Cary Fukunaga, de Armas says, “I walked into the office and Cary was having a writers’ meeting and Phoebe was in the meeting. I’ve never blushed so hard. I couldn’t even speak. I just went, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, I love you, I love you. I want to be your friend!’” They are not yet BFFs, however. “Maybe one day,” de Armas says with a laugh.
Another pinch-me moment would be working with famed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, whom she has yet to meet. “That would be a dream,” she says. “He’s such a legend. He’s incredible. Now I’m a Bond girl, but I would love to be an Almodóvar girl. I’ll audition for him for sure.”
The reality is, like the most enduring Hollywood success stories, her ambition often gets in the way of everything else. “I’m missing out on my friends and my parents and my home, but life keeps going, and I want to see what opportunities are to come.”
Hair by LONA VIGI at SWA Agency using Serge Normant
Makeup by MÉLANIE INGLESSIS at Forward Artists
This story originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of C Magazine.
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